Gambian journalist Momodou S. Jallow of the privately-owned Daily News has been charged with libel in connection with a report in which a woman alleged that a local district chief abused his office in order to reward a lover.

The story, entitled “Presidential Hajj Package Scandal; Chief Baldeh Allegedly Bribes Lover”, was published on 4 January, the Daily News reported. Jallow was arrested last Friday, along with the woman who made the allegations, but both were bailed later the same day, news reports said.

The charge is surprising because in his article Jallow also asked the accused chief to respond to the allegation, which he did. Daily News chief editor Saikou Jammeh and the newspaper roundly condemned “the arrest, the jailing and the looming prosecution”.

“At the time the woman was making the allegation, the chief was not there. So [Jallow] acted responsibly and contacted the chief”, Jammeh told IPI by phone. “This is fair and balanced. The charges are out of place.”

According to Jammeh, the reporter could face up to two years in prison or a fine or both if convicted.

“No journalist should ever face criminal charges as a result of his or her work,” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. “We call for charges against Momodou S. Jallow to be dropped immediately.”